Fixing the Behavioral Health Crisis on Our Streets

Every day on our streets there are people who are facing a combination of homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. Each of these conditions is challenging alone, but when experienced at the same time it creates a downward spiral that makes it even more difficult for the person to get treated and housed.

This is not an easy issue and it won’t be solved overnight, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking action now to address the problem. We need a coordinated, citywide approach to make sure that everyone in San Francisco is sheltered and has access to the care they need.

Reforming San Francisco’s Behavioral Health System

Mayor Breed with Dr. Grant Colfax and Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, the newly appointed Director of Mental Health Reform.

It is no secret that for too long our City’s behavioral health system was in need of serious changes. That’s why in April, I hired Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland to serve as Director of Mental Health Reform at the Department of Public Health. In that role, he’s studying
San Francisco’s approach to behavioral health care and making recommendations on how to improve where we’re falling short. The Department of Public Health is here to serve our City and make sure that people — especially those who are indigent and uninsured — get the medical attention and care that they need in a high-quality, safe, and healing environment. We want to make sure DPH is serving the people that are in the most in need of services.

That’s where my new initiative comes in. The goal is to provide vulnerable residents with intensive services and coordinated treatment to get them off the street and into shelter.

So far, Dr. Nigusse Bland has identified 4,000 residents who are experiencing homelessness and behavioral health crises.

Here’s what we now know about them:

Of the 4,000 people, there are 230 people who are most acutely vulnerable. The Initiative will begin by providing targeted help to those 230 people, while also making system-wide changes that will help the entire population of 4,000.

We need a coordinated, citywide approach to address this issues.
Here are the initial steps we’re taking:

We also know that drug dealing is a serious problem that has terrible impacts on our neighborhoods and quality of life. Our Police Department is taking action and making arrests, but we need partners in the District Attorney’s Office and the courts to stop the continued cycle of dealers getting arrested and then constantly released back out on our street.

In the coming months, Dr. Nigusse Bland will release a comprehensive report, assessing the needs of the behavioral health system and recommending reforms to improve the system. This report will be a roadmap for DPH as they work to serve the 4,000 people who desperately need help.

We need to focus on resources on the people who are most in need and who use the highest amount of City and non-profit resources. By doing so, we can get them off the streets and into the treatment and housing they need.
These important initial steps are just the beginning of a complete reform of San Francisco’s behavioral health system, which is critical to meeting the crisis on our streets.

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